Flirting Scholar

Reviewed by YTSL

This Stephen Chow offering, which has Gong Li as its leading lady, was the top grossing local film at the Hong Kong box offices in 1993.  Raking in HK$40,171,033 in 28 days, it was only financially outdone by "Jurassic Park", and left other works like "Fong Sai Yuk", "The Bride with White Hair", "Once Upon a Time in China III", "The Heroic Trio" and "Iron Monkey" trailing in its wake.  IMHO though, those less financially successful films which I've listed are better productions and provide a more enjoyable viewing experience than what is -- according to Paul Fonoroff (1998:315)-- but one more version of a Ming Dynasty comic tale which was first put on celluloid back in the 1930s.

Stephen Chow and Gong Li
This is not at all to say that FLIRTING SCHOLAR is completely bereft of laughter-inducing, and even quite inspired, sections.  For example, this (re)viewer loved the bits of the movie in which the main character, a master painter, poet and musician (played of course by Stephen Chow):  Effectively turned his friend (played by Natalis Chan) into a giant paintbrush and utilized the man's nipples to create painted impressions of flowers, feet to paint clouds and mountains, and penis to imprint the tongue of an eagle(!); and recited a rhythmic rap poem while accompanying himself on percussion instruments fashioned from chopsticks, chinaware and pieces of wooden furniture.
Stephen Chow and Mimi Chu
Another amusing scene is that in which the multi-talented but -- at that point in the story -- sad scholar (who is alternately referred to as Tong Pak Fu and Tong Yan), is obliged to make himself smile widely to assure his widowed mother and eight incompatible wives that he is indeed happy with his lot.  Ditto re the one in which our hero uses his kungfu skills to make his pulse have a musical beat in order to convince a doctor that he is indeed not in the best of health.  And even with my having to rely on what must surely be spuriously translated English subtitles to have some sense of what was being uttered, the distich -- what is that really?! -- reciting duel between Stephen Chow and Vincent Kuk's characters did come across as being rather funny.
Natalsi Chan as the human paint brush and the Four Scholars
So, why didn't I outright adore FLIRTING SCHOLAR?  One reason is that like many other Stephen Chow films I've seen, its story -- which, boiled down to an essence, is about a man who looks like he has everything in life needing one more thing, person really, to make him as happy as most people think he already ought to be -- and source of gags is too inconsistently all over the place for my liking.  Another is that Sing Jai's main co-star in this work is not charismatic enough to enthrall me (And yes, I am referring to Gong Li here).
A third factor comes from its being so that despite this effort's being graced by old school kungfu movie legends Cheng Pei Pei (playing the formidable mistress of the household of which Gong Li's Chen Heung character is a privileged maid, who also -- as luck would have it -- turns out to be the woman Tong Pak Fu's father jilted in favor of his mother) and Gordon Liu, much of the fight scenes in the film are of the bad -- i.e., ungraceful and unbelievable as well as downright pedestrian -- wire-fu variety.  All in all, I'd go so far as to say that this is the Stephen Chow film I've seen with the least strong -- and therefore most by themselves unentertaining -- supporting cast I have seen (despite its not being entirely made up of unknowns; what with James Wong, Lam Wei, Leung Kar-yan, Francis Ng, Gabriel Wong and Yuen King Tan also being in the picture).
Cheng Pei Pei, Chow and Gong Li
This is really a great pity because I actually do think that Stephen Chow does give one of his most appealing performances in FLIRTING SCHOLAR.  If only the movie had featured more displays of amazing artistic acts and cute lovestruck looks by its main man, fewer soft-focus shots of Gong Li's face and allowed her to show more acting ability than she managed to do here...Still, this is not to say that I am unaware that some male viewers would disagree with this opinion of mine!

My rating for the film:  7.

Reviewed by Brian

I actually thought this film was consistently funny and clever from beginning to end and there were a few occasions in which I had tears running down my face because I was laughing so hard. Chow's style of Mo-lau-tau comedy always plays well with me though - the more incongruent and out of context the better as far as I am concerned. I love a modernist comic sensibility mixed into period costume comedies. Though there is a fairly solid if not particularly original plot here, in many ways the film is really just a constant series of Chow routines that come at you faster than a Nolan Ryan fastball. If that pitch was not to your liking, another one will be headed your way in a second.

Yuen King-tan, Chow, Leung Kar-yan, Lam Wai and Gordon Liu
There are a few routines that fall flat with a deafening thud - but I thought a very high percentage of the ones in this film hit their target with the ease of a master archer. The one routine in which Chow uses Natalis Chan like a human paint brush is one of the cleverest criticisms I have seen of commercial art. Besides the other ones that YTSL mentions,  I also loved the "who is the most miserable person" duel between two people wanting to sell themselves to bury their "loved" ones, after being poisoned by one another both Chow and Cheng Pei Pei extolling the virtues of their potion like commercial spokespersons on TV, Chow's mahjong playing and drinking game wives and mother (Mimi Chu) hanging themselves to gain face, the Four Scholars (look for Francis Ng in a small part) and the ladyboy, the Four Perverted Thieves, Gong Li dancing merrily with the poor folks, the sudden turns into Chinese Opera, the kick that can turn a beautiful woman ugly and the antidote punch, and of course the final scene in which Chow has to pick Gong Li from a large group of similarly dressed women behind veils.
Amid all this rapid-fire series of jokes, pranks, puns and pratfalls though lies a fairly sweet story of a man respected and envied by all for his knowledge and wives, but who is in fact incredibly shallow and very lonely. His love for Gong Li brings out all of his best instincts as he is willing to sell himself as a menial laborer to be near her and is willing to risk his life to save her. He makes himself into the man she thinks he is.

Then throw in a splendidly funny and excellent performance from one of my favorite actresses from the 1960's - Cheng Pei Pei - who also gets to show she still has some kung fu moves left - and I could not have been happier. And I have not even mentioned how stunning Gong Li is! This ranks very high on my list of Stephen Chow films.

My rating for this film: 8.0

DVD Information:

Distributed by Mei Ah

The transfer is decent -  some speckling but generally clean and crisp.


Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

The subtitles are burnt on Chinese and English

There is no menu - which of course means no extras and no chapters

I had no trouble reading the subs.